What is Tai Chi?
Tai Chi Chuan, most often referred to as Tai Chi, developed in China over 2,000 thousand years ago. It combines the ancient practice of qi gong with Taoist philosophy, martial arts, and the anatomical teachings of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). One component of TCM’s teachings link each part of the body to energy lines and points mapped throughout the human form.
While practicing Tai Chi, a person builds and cultivates their chi, life force. They perform flowing meditative movements while standing and breathing slowly and deeply. The purpose of these postures or forms is to direct the life force throughout the body to create balance and health in the mind and body. The forms are based on natural phenomena, animals, plant life, and the elements.
A Tai Chi practice includes a series of prescribed movements memorized by the practitioner. Tai Chi may be practiced in a class setting or alone. There are five classical Tai Chi traditions derived from the founding families of each style and many variations of them have evolved over time. A practice may be short form, including 27 to 30 postures or long form covering 100 or more.
When people practice Tai Chi, they experience many mental and physical benefits. They experience improved memory, mental clarity, improved concentration and improved cognitive function.
Tai Chi practitioners also enjoy a heightened sense of well-being, emotional stability, and more stable moods. They also experience gains in strength and flexibility, lower blood pressure, improvements in circulation and metabolism as well as preservation of the joints and improved range of motion.
How Joints Work
When the joints engage to allow movement, the tissues that cover the areas where bones meet are compressed and released. They compress and release as the muscles direct the limbs to flex, rotate and extend.
This action causes the body to secrete synovial fluid around the joints. Synovial fluid has a viscous consistency and lubricates the joints to aid fluidity of movement; it also shields the cartilage at the end of bones from wear.
Range Of Motion
There are six types of joints in the body:
• Ball and socket; ex. hip
• Condyloid; ex. knuckles
• Gliding; ex. wrists
• Pivot; ex. joint between the radius and ulna
• Hinge; ex. elbow
• Saddle; ex. where carpal and metacarpal bones of the thumb meet
Range of motion refers to the extent to which a limb flexes, extends, and/or rotates in relationship to the joint. Range of motion tends to decline with age and lack of physical activity. One of Tai Chi’s many benefits is its ability to preserve and enhance range of motion.
Tai Chi’s flowing rounded movements take the joints through their full range of motion during each session. As a practitioner goes through the selected sequence of forms, their deep breathing allows the body to remain deeply relaxed while the movements fully lubricate the joints.
Tai Chi also employs a 70% rule. At any given time, the practitioner exerts only 70% of the effort required to initiate and follow through with the intended movement. Tai Chi facilitates a physical state without tension, which allows the body to move freely without stressing the joints, cartilage, or ligaments.
Since Tai Chi is a very low impact form of physical activity, it is accessible to most people regardless of age or fitness level. If a person has significant physical challenges, the practice may be adapted to fit their needs.
Tai Chi may be practiced from a seated position while the practitioner performs the movements to the best of their ability and visualizes the chi moving through their body. It is important to remember Tai Chi’s mental aspects equal its physicals aspects in importance and impact.
Tai Chi can be learned by taking a class at a martial arts studio, community centers, gyms and even at local parks. There are also DVD programs and online videos that teach this practice. It is important to learn how to do Tai Chi correctly, which includes all three of its important elements, movement, meditation and breathing. Learning proper form and execution will yield the best results in obtaining the wealth of mental, physical, and emotional benefits that Tai Chi provides.